Peter Chinni died Feb. 5, 2019, at age 90. Our world is dimmer and smaller for his absence. He will be mourned and missed by many. One like Peter Chinni will not soon pass this way again.
I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me.
--Terence (circa 165 BC)
Even for one in love with words, none are near adequate to express the sorrow and calculate the loss evoked by Peter Chinni's recent sudden death. With his passing, the promise of yet another productive springtime season vanishes, and with it, the dreams of all that might have been. Though the ending was inevitable, is one ever ready to relinquish one's hold on one so precious, so cherished?
World-class sculptor/visual artist, singer, musician, gourmet cook, athlete of bygone days, "closet" poet, beloved by many, dear friend to those so blessed, Peter Chinni died Feb. 5, 2019, at age 90. Our world is dimmer and smaller for his absence. He will be mourned and missed by many. One like Peter Chinni will not soon pass this way again.
A strong friendship with Peter had only relatively recently come to be. Though we met some 10-12 years earlier, it was not until this late winter in the seasons of Peter's life that we openly acknowledged and pursued a mutual desire for deep connection with one another. We'd likely been sidling up to this for years. Regrettably, men too often seem to approach friendship in this way.
Over time, Peter and I developed a routine of long, leisurely lunches every couple of weeks--just the two of us. Our times together were invariably occasions of wonder, surprise and unexpected discovery. Beyond the more predictable conversations regarding art, literature and politics, we exchanged thoughts and feelings on life, love and longing. Peter knew how to express himself in art and in language. He also knew how to listen.
Though not witness to earlier seasons of Peter's life, I came to see something of them through his eyes and through photos that were often serendipitously happened upon during visits to his studio. A treasure trove of talent, Peter's studio is a story unto itself.
Given Peter's age, the looming prospect of death was a constant, uninvited intruder. We talked openly about the certainty of his passing at some future time. But Peter was nowhere near ready to go now. He had active plans for new work, and I was yet intent on more of a future with him. I never imagined we would have all the time in the world, but I counted on at least a bit more of it. That was not to be.
Whether over lunch or in his studio, Peter encouraged and supported my efforts to assemble words and phrases and clauses. For my part, I was persistently stunned by Peter's varied inventiveness and compelling talent. In his studio, wherever my gaze paused, an exceptional work of art would come into focus. I had little doubt that I could lose myself in his work and never tire of it.
Some months ago, Peter asked a favor. It being highly unlikely that I would refuse any request of his, l immediately, yet blindly, assented. Whereupon, he proffered a sheaf of papers … poetry … his poetry! It was accompanied by a request that I share my reactions to this heretofore undisclosed art form. But shouldn't there be a lifetime limit on the number of well-honed talents one individual is permitted to possess?
That said, Peter Chinni was much more than the simple sum of his noteworthy talented accomplishments. His artistic success was never accompanied by condescension. He was never filled with ego, entitlement or "attitude." His consistent near-childlike curiosity and humble humanity rendered him eminently approachable by anyone. The twinkle in his eye beckoned strangers closer. Nobody was a priori deemed unworthy of encounter. Peter would regularly marvel with me at some of the magic of Taos, never knowing whom you might meet and never being able to tell by a stranger's appearance whom that person may be. The Yiddish word "mensch" would seem to accurately characterize Peter Chinni, for a mensch is a true human being. Peter Chinni was indeed a mensch, a true human being, a man for all reasons and a man for all seasons.
Among those of us who were lucky enough to have had our lives touched by Peter Chinni, may his spirit continue to dwell among and within us. May we forever carry him in our hearts. May this kind, gentle, generous, talented man for all seasons rest in peace.
Robert J. Silver lives in Taos.
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